Italians ask, “who was this Jesus fellow?”

Apparently Americans are far from alone in being an overwhelmingly Christian country where most people know shockingly little about what scriptures actually say. A recent survey of Italians found that although 88% of them claim to be Roman Catholic, most of them are unable to answer basic questions about the bible correctly. Questions included whether Paul was in the OT or NT, if Jesus penned a gospel, and whether the gospels were in the bible. Of course, odds are good that you’d actually have to have read the bible in order to answer these questions:

Whereas in the US 75 per cent of Americans claim to have read a Bible passage recently, in Italy the figure is 27 per cent. . . ‘In the beginning was the Word – but the Italians don’t read it’ said La Stampa.”

Really, this isn’t very surprising to me. I was raised Catholic and in my experience Catholics aren’t generally encouraged to read scriptures. As a matter of fact, when I was a freshman in college, I became involved in a prison ministry program where we would put on a weekend retreat for some of the boys there.  At the beginning of the weekend, the staff leader would ask if anyone needed a bible.  On my first retreat I and two of my friends raised our hands.  The leader was not happy with us – the bibles he was giving out were mean for the boys!  As strange as it sounds, it had never occurred to the three of us (all good Catholics) to bring a bible with on a religious retreat!  When I became leader of the group I would make a point of telling newbies to pack a bible to bring with.

It’s a long way from there to here, eh?

HT: Bruce Feiler at Beliefnet

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3 thoughts on “Italians ask, “who was this Jesus fellow?”

  1. I think Catholicism has changed a bit since you were younger. All the Catholics I know read the Bible. Yet, since Catholics rely on the triad of Magisterium, Tradition, and Holy Writ for guidance in their daily lives, there is not quite the same emphasis put on Bible reading alone as there is for Protestants.

    And don’t you love being lectured on Catholic Bible-reading habits by a Jew?

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  2. This is one area where I find my Quaker friends (Friends!) lacking as well. Those of us who are Biblically literate tend to be refugees from evangelical or fundamentalist upbringings. Yet Quaker testimonies are deeply rooted in scripture and ignorance of those scriptures is threatening to the tradition in my estimation. There is a small group of folks trying to revive interest in Bible study within liberal Quakerism, but I think the association of the Bible with hard-core “Religious Right” rhetoric is a real barrier to many Friends, unfortunately. Luckily, many convinced Friends (read converts) are former fundies like me. If Quakers continue to draw from those ranks, we at least preserve a pool of Bible knowledge. But that’s a poor substitute for engaging the Bible as a faith community. I’m no longer a literalist, nor even a believer in inerrancy, yet I think we ignore the Bible at our peril.

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  3. I should probably clarify that my branch of Quakers is the “Hicksite” branch — the most theologically liberal. There are other branches that would probably give the Bible a stronger place in their faith practice.

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